Come election time, and political parties in the game brandish their manifestoes, outlining their plan of governance and reform if voted to power. This time too, the PML-N, PPP, PTI and other parties have launched their election manifestoes with great fanfare.
In most cases, the party manifestoes are a rehash of their previous versions with a few changes inserted here and there to give them a new look and sheen. Analysed closely, they are no more than a bundle of hollow slogans and empty promises which have been the stock-in-trade of our politicians over the last six decades.
Take, for example, the manifesto of the Pakistan People’s Party. Fifty years ago, it promised roti, kapra aur makan to its voters but people across Pakistan, and especially in rural Sindh, Balochistan and Punjab are still homeless, shirtless and deprived of two meals a day. In its new manifesto, PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto has promised progressive policies and extended the Roti, Kapra, aur Makan slogan to guarantee access to quality healthcare services and education.
But how credible is the party’s new slogan when during the last three decades it has been in power it has done little for the people of Pakistan and Sindh, its power base? The PPP’s manifesto also takes up the issue of food security and makes access to clean drinking water a major component of its food security promise. However, all this sounds ridiculous, given how children in Thar have been dying of starvation and malnutrition over the last few years.
PML-N, which has ruled Pakistan for the last five years, has presented a manifesto with emphasis on continuing the work they have done in on infrastructure development and road building. Its main campaign slogan is: vote koizzat do, khidmat ko vote do (respect the vote, vote for service). One of the key promises of the PML-N manifesto is the strengthening of democracy but its focus on health, education, water and other basic human needs is rather diffused since its performance in these sectors has been dismal during the last five years.
PTI, which is yet to form a government at the centre, has made extensive promises drawing heavily on the model implemented in their provincial government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The manifesto dwells at length on the theme of“NayaPakistan”, promising to turn the country into an Islamic welfare state on the pattern of the Holy Prophet’s Islamic state of Madina – something that appeals to the religious-conservative mindset. Ten million jobs, five million low-cost housing units, recovering looted national wealth parked in offshore tax havens, building dams, including the Diamer-Bhasha dam, and strict accountability all across the board are some of the broad brush promises made in the PTI manifesto.
The essential message of PTI’s manifesto is woven around the theme of economic expansion and strengthening of institutions and the federation. The manifesto talks of plans to eradicate corruption by implementing a new policing system along the lines of what they claim they have achieved in KP. Also among their promises is restructuring of south Punjab along administrative lines to better respond to the needs of the people of this backward region. PTI also has elaborate plans to ensure a smooth merger of FATA with KP. At the same time, PTI has made environmental protection a big part of its manifesto, claiming it will implement a billion-tree tsunami style project all across Pakistan.
Reflecting the widespread popular discontent over the lack of basic amenities of life, all major parties have pledged multiple schemes to address the issues of food, health, education, environment and employment generation, but without explaining where the money will come from. They also generally support deregulation, privatisation and liberalization, although approaches and strategies differ.
The manifestoes of all political parties are weak in their ideological content. There is no discussion of why poverty is so widespread in Pakistan and why the rich-poor income gap is widening. The manifestoes also refrain from discussing feudalism which is the basic cause of rampant poverty in the rural hinterland.
There is also little mention of constitutional amendments and other legislation needed to empower the masses. Institutional reform finds passing reference in all three manifestoes.The PML-N’s manifesto makes veiled references to the power imbalance between civilians and the establishment. The main focus of the three parties is on policies, strategies and projects in different areas such as health, education, water, energy and the like, with ambitious targets set for each.
The fact that the party manifestoes are weak in relation to the numerous challenges facing the country in the socio-economic fields is not surprising, given that more than half the population is illiterate or semi-educated. Secondly, manifestoes carry little weight with the voters because they know from past experience that they are no more than part of election campaign rhetoric and have little relevance to actual governance when a party is voted to power.